Of scouts and resellers…

I go to a respectable number of book sales each year. It’s not an every weekend thing, but six or seven times a year, one catches my attention sufficiently to make venturing off the homestead for it potentially worthwhile. The ones I like to dig into are usually put on “friends of the library” or other organizations who specifically take in book donations – they’re specialists rather than “used stuff” generalists. If I happen to be passing by an estate sale or yard sale, I might stop out of curiosity. I don’t generally seek those out even when someone advertises “lots of books.” It seems my definition of “lots” is wildly different than the average person’s. Nine times out of ten, what’s on offer is a box or two of kids’ books or beat to hell paperbacks.

There used to be a breed of person who frequented these sales called a book scout. They knew their business. They knew their points, editions, conditions, and values and could evaluate a book on sight. The best of them seemed to have a sixth sense about whether there was real value in a book – whether even the newest ultra-modern was a $2 reading copy or a $200 first edition.

Time seems to be replacing proper book scouts by roving bands of resellers. They ply their trade online, making their money in arbitrage – buying for $2 and selling for $3. Their business seems to be one of volume over quality. They’re hell with a barcode scanner and figuring out the spread on Amazon. They collectively seem to know price, but not value. 

These resellers are in there like vacuums sucking up all oxygen in the room – sitting on the floors, sprawled out, making obstacles (if not spectacles) of themselves, trying to scan every barcode in sight. It feels tawdry somehow. There’s not a bit of old-fashioned book scouting about any of it. They surely passed over the $200 book I walked out with for $10 last weekend because it simply didn’t have a barcode to scan. It must be more cost effective to sell 200 books on a $1 margin, but there’s no soul in it.  

I don’t think these guys are evil. They wouldn’t be doing what they do if there wasn’t a market for the $3 book. Increasingly, though, I wonder if my days at the sales are numbered. At some point the sheer aggravation of dealing with them won’t be weighed out by the utter joy of making a real score. There’s a big part of me that would rather just pay a dealer something close to retail than continue to trip over 101 resellers.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Every six months the or so they put a slightly cheaper brand of paper towel in the dispenser. Eventually I expect we’ll just have a damp wood plank sticking out of the wall. Look, I know we should all be looking for ways we can stretch a dollar, but at some point quality really does matter. If we’ve reached a point where the budget is so thin that drying your hands may result in splinters, it may be time to take a hard look at where we can save a few dollars in other places and stop trying to balance the books on line items for the men’s room.

2. eBay. I ordered two items last week on Monday and Tuesday. As of today I don’t have any shipping information or other confirmation other than the receipt from eBay. Coupled with several items I’ve had to return recently for undisclosed damage or damage due to shit packaging, I think my my days of using eBay for anything that’s not a bulk or commodity item are pretty much over.

3. Netflix. Another email from Netflix. Another price increase. Yes, I’ll probably give them another $12 a year, but they’re starting to tread close to the point where I’ll deem them too expensive for just a “nice to have” streaming service. The entertainment line item in the budget is only going to tolerate so much upwards creep between cable and individual content providers before the ax falls.

Viva la Capitalism!

I’ve really been sitting here metaphorically bashing my head against the desk trying to figure out what was worth writing about tonight. The solution, as usual, was right in front of me. Usually, I don’t pay that much attention to the internet. It’s basically transparent to the user… I mean I don’t sit down at the keyboard and say I’m going to use the internet to access WordPress or my bank. I just point in the direction of what I want to do, and it gets me there. The wonder if the internet really isn’t what got me thinking tonight, though. It’s the sites like eBay and Amazon, Etsy and Cafepress that let any schmo create an account, log in, and start selling products to a whole world of consumers that they wouldn’t have access to from the kind of businesses that people started from home five or ten years ago. Maybe I’m coming late to this party, but damnit, that’s a big deal. It’s huge! Someone with an idea that’s good enough can sit in the comfort of their on home and make money from nothing more than their ideas and a willingness to put in the time to identify and reach an audience.

Your chances of becoming an internet millionaire are probably about the same as hitting tonight’s MegaMillions jackpot, but still, in this case it seems to be a function of the harder you work, they luckier you get. The beauty of this new wave of micro-capitalism is that it takes so much of the hugh startup costs out of the equation and lets people focus on delivering a quality product while someone with the technical expertise deals with the “back office” stuff. With a few good ideas and a high speed internet connection, we can all be in business. Talk about a radical departure from all of human history.

Viva la Capitalism!